OXFORD is to lead the way in developing a new approach to transplant surgery.

The Churchill Hospital has been named the first UK centre that will develop auto-transplants for kidney patients, with new funding for the specialist kidney surgery.

The procedure sees surgeons remove a diseased kidney, cut out the tumour and then reattach it to the patient, via an incision in the groin.

The operation will help spare people from having to spend years on dialysis, and save money for the NHS as a result.

One of the Churchill’s first kidney patients to have benefited from an auto-transplant was Bob Simmonds, who developed kidney cancer after years of robust health.

Mr Simmonds, 71, of Tetsworth, near Thame, had the operation three years ago.

The father-of-one listened in disbelief as doctors set out the plan to take out his diseased kidney, cool it to 4C, cut out the tumour, and then reattach it.

He said: “said: “Lacking any knowledge of kidney cancer and hospital systems, I was astonished at the idea of ‘benching’ a kidney, dissecting it and transplanting it back. Initially we felt overwhelmed by what lay ahead.”

It was the success rate of operations like this that has led to Oxford becoming the only centre to get national approval and funding from the Department of Health to carry out this new approach to transplants.

The operation will only be offered to patients who have one kidney left.

Previously they would have faced having their solitary kidney removed and then go on to dialysis, while waiting for a suitable donor.

This specialist kidney surgery will lead to significant long-term savings for the NHS.

The operation costs £32,000, making it cheaper than the cost of a year’s dialysis treatment.

David Cranston, consultant urological surgeon at the Churchill Hospital, said: “The Government wanted one centre to get it off the ground before spreading it out to other places.

“When the kidney is removed it is placed in a sterile environment and surrounded by ice. At 4C a kidney can survive 24 or 30 hours, which means we have as long as we want to carry out the careful surgery to remove the tumour and put the kidney back together again, before retransplanting it.

“Because the kidney goes back into the same person it came out of, it means there is no need for immune-suppressing drugs.”

He believes the fact that the world-renowned Oxford Transplant Centre is based at the Churchill was key to winning funding, which will be paid on a case-by-case basis.

But given that there are believed to be 7,000 cases of kidney cancer each year, the numbers likely to benefit from auto-transplants will be comparatively small.

At present Mr Cranston believes the Oxford team will initially be able to save up to 10 patients from dialysis a year.